Upfield’s sustainable approach: Blue Band Canola Oil case study

Upfield managing director, East & Southern Africa Peter Muchiri. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Upfield, manufacturer of the iconic Blue Band brand and the largest plant-based foods company in the world, recently released its policy position on their sustainability agenda and long-term vision of ‘A Better Plant-Based Future’.

Peter Muchiri, the Managing director, East & Southern Africa, shares more about this vision and how Upfield Kenya is building a sustainable business model that supports the growth of the economy and agricultural value chain by partnering with smallholder farmers.

Upfield recently released its policy position on ‘A Better Plant-based Future’. How does this vision promote sustainability?

Upfield is the largest plant-based foods company in the world and the number one producer of plant-based spreads globally including iconic brands like Flora, Country Crock, Rama, Becel and our well-loved Blue Band here in Africa. At Upfield, we believe in a global food system that can promote sustainability and public health, through a shift towards more plant-based diets, which have been proven to be healthier for people and better for our planet.

This we are doing at Upfield by encouraging people to move towards plant-based diets, producing and making such foods available, advocating for policy incentives, and establishing partnerships that promote healthier, more sustainable foods. Our recently released policy paper and global campaign are part of the work we are doing to deliver this vision of ‘A Better Plant-Based Future.’


Speaking of establishing partnerships, how are you driving this sustainability agenda in Kenya and Africa?

One of the projects we are especially proud of in Africa is a partnership we established with Agventure Limited, a company based out of Nanyuki, to source Canola oil from smallholder farmers in Kenya that we currently use in the manufacture of Blue Band Margarine and the recently launched Blue Band Cold Pressed Canola oil.

The partnership currently impacts 3,500 farmers and is projected to reach 7,500 farmers by the end of 2020.

The initiative has created a sustainable supply of Canola for Upfield, ensured sustainable production and revenue for thousands of farmers and is providing quality nutrition for Kenyans via the healthy Canola oil. The positive impact on Kenya’s economy cannot be overemphasised. Imagine the possibilities and impact on the agricultural value chain if we can get more organisations to establish such partnerships. We are proud that Upfield is leading such innovative sustainable solutions.

Canola oil has been touted to be one of the best oils health wise, how true is it and what makes it different from other type of oils? Canola oil is a healthy, plant-based oil because it has very low saturated fat and is very high in monounsaturated fat. It contains a significant level of polyunsaturated omega-3 and 6 essential fats and boost growth and development in children. Canola oil also contains significant amounts of phytosterols that help reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the body.

How do you source your Canola oil?

We started sourcing canola, also known as rapeseed, locally in 2017 in partnership with Agventure Limited, by growing canola in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Agventure started with 500 contracted farmers, increasing to 3,500 and is projected to reach 7,500 farmers by the end of this year. Since the partnership started, Canola continues to grow in popularity in Kenya. As a rotation crop it has numerous benefits for the soil and the farmers.

It is a break with the past from traditional to conservation farming and as such, significantly reduces erosion, improves water retention, and leads to fewer weeds, pests and diseases. The farmers’ risks are also more diversified compared to planting monocrops and it increases their climate resilience. This approach will result in higher yields and returns as well as reduced labor, fertiliser, and pesticide costs.

These sustainable conservation farming methods have helped increase yields considerably, while mitigating effects of climate change and providing economic and social benefits to the farmers, their families, and the surrounding communities. Participating local farmers have benefitted from and contributed to economic development and sustainable farming practices in Kenya.

How have you managed to build consistency in supply of raw material from the farmers that you work with?

We rely on ingredients that are produced by farmers around the world including Kenya to provide consumers with high quality products that help them to be healthier and happier.

To ensure consistency in supply, we source our plant oils responsibly and sustainably. We are a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil which means we are committed to comply with established requirements, not to contribute to the destruction of natural habitats, loss of diversity or deforestation.

In Kenya, we are at the forefront in adapting sustainable conservation agriculture using rotational crops that are part of the economic cycle for the farmers. Conservation agriculture results in lower cost of production and better long-term sustainability for the farming system.

What support do you give to farmers, who we can say have been instrumental in ensuring that the supply of your Canola Oil is sustainable?

We provide an assured market for contracted farmers while Agventure, through its Center of Excellence for Crop Rotation, focuses on recruiting and training the farmers on climate smart agriculture that meets the challenges of today's fast changing world. They therefore benefit from the capacity development and training opportunity as well as knowing they have an assured market for their crops.

What impact has Upfield had in Kenya’s agriculture sector, having in mind that the country is an agro-based economy? This partnership initiative is in line with the Kenyan Government’s big four agenda as an initiative that focuses on guaranteeing both food security and nutrition to all Kenyans. This is done through value addition along the food value chain and promoting agribusiness development, which will in turn benefit Kenyans who rely on agriculture for their livelihood. It also supports Upfield’s sustainability commitment towards reducing environmental impact and improving local farmer livelihoods.

What is the outlook of the company with regards to boosting your revenue and that of the farmers going forward? Leveraging on our position as the largest plant-based foods company in the world, at Upfield we are looking to diversify, expand our portfolio and grow market share in the East and Southern African region. As we embark on this journey with our partners, we will continue building capacity, supporting local farmers in improving their livelihood and promoting environmental sustainability in all our sourcing, production and distribution processes and practices.